When a whiskey distillery first opens, it can take months or years until it can bottle its best stuff. Chef Ryan Ratino wants to avoid that lag time when he opens his first solo restaurant Bresca on 14th Street NW this fall in the former first floor of Policy Restaurant & Lounge. That’s why he’s already begun dry-aging meat.
“We’re starting now,” he says. For example, he’s making katsuobushi out of beef tongue that he’ll shave over short ribs served family style with smoked mushrooms, spring onions, and brioche made with dry-aged beef fat. Katsuobushi is typically made from dried, fermented fish that is shaved as bonito flakes on top of Japanese food.
Ratino’s risk-taking menu is full of creative flavor combinations because he’s cooking with free rein for the first time in his career. “I have the chance to go in somewhere without pre-conceived notions,” he says, having most recently cooked at Ripple, where he was following in Chef Marjorie Meek-Bradley’s footsteps in a neighborhood restaurant setting. He also served as the executive sous chef at the Michelin-starred Caviar Russe in New York.
He’s calling his style of cooking “bistronomy” because it melds avant-garde gastronomic cooking rooted in French technique with the more casual vibe of a bistro. Bresca’s a la carte menu will have an array of appetizers ($7-$22) as well as larger dishes for tables to share, such as a dry-aged duck or dairy cow that’s been dunked in kidney lard and aged for 100 days.
To prepare for opening Bresca, Ratino visited Paris, Madrid, Bologna, and Florence this summer. He sat down to his most memorable meal at Restaurant David Toutain in Paris, discovering a plate of eel with green apple and sesame. He’ll offer his own interpretation at Bresca with foie gras brined in dashi with smoked eel, green apple, and chestnut. In Bologna he looked for pasta inspiration because there will be noodles on the Bresca menu, including sea urchin linguini with summer truffles and chili.
Finally, Ratino studied plates and glasses on his Euro-trip. “I have a china fix,” he says. Bresca is months away from opening, but Ratino’s already amassed 29 kinds of plates and bowls. “If you get a bowl of pasta or eel, someone three tables over will have it on a different plate. It doesn’t all have to be the same. I want to make your food look beautiful, and china is so stunning. It helps draw out colors or textures.”
He’s also having fun with the glassware that will play host to cocktail veteran Juan Coronado’s drinks, including a glass and gold bumble-bee-shaped vessel. Maybe it will hold the “Dihedral” cocktail made with beeswax-infused tequila reposado, Manuka honey, genepy, verjus, elder flower foam, bee pollen, and micro flowers ($14). Ratino calls Coronado “practically a chef behind the bar.”
Bees and honey tie into the restaurant’s name. “Bresca is a Latin derivative of honeycomb,” Ratino explains. “We’re playing on the structure the honeycomb represents. It’s how we want to operate, with strong structure. There are a lot of elements in nature that are composed of the hexagon.”
Nature will also find its way into the restaurant’s design, which includes live-edge maple tables and wooden, Scandinavian-style chairs. Bresca will be splashed with a color palette of navy, white, grey, and brass. And it might feel a little like the set of Alice in Wonderland. Look for rabbit lamps with gold ears, a duck pendant that hangs down, and a limestone-washed brick wall that has fish heads poking out. “I wanted it to be like me,” Ratino says. “I’d rather be in the realm of creative and fun than stiff.”
In addition to the main dining room that seats 70, including a 12-seat bar, Bresca will have a rooftop herb garden that will double as a lounge for sipping cocktails before or after dinner. Ratino has also secured an acre of land in Sterling, Virginia, for planting in the restaurant’s second year of operation.
Ratino says to expect the doors to open in September or October.
Bresca, 1906 14th St. NW; brescadc.com